Teaching foreign languages gives rise to pedagogical problems which need to be addressed and eventually solved to ensure and facilitate acquisition. Translation, as a potential language skill, seems to have been banned for a long time from the foreign language (FL) classes because it was viewed as a harmful tool in language learning. There has been, thus, a gradual shift from the traditional ‘grammar-translation method’ towards a more natural and communicative approach known as the ‘direct method’. According to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) only four skills are generally used to test learners’ competence in a foreign language, that is, reading, writing, speaking and listening. This paper, however, argues that translation can prove to be a very useful tool in language teaching because thanks to a bidirectional approach learners can improve their language competence through translation exercises and, at the same time, accurate and fluent translations can be produced from a linguistic point of view. Translation is viewed as a group of sentences that are all linked to one another and make sense in a specific context. Translation requires good reading and analytical skills, lexico-grammatical competence as well as significant cultural knowledge. The assumption of this work is that it is impossible and unnatural to learn a language without relying on the L1 and, therefore, translation cannot be avoided in language acquisition. Several studies have already shown that L1 influence should be regarded as a way to enrich language competence and proficiency rather than being associated with negative transfer. Learning a foreign language is not just about learning grammatical rules and vocabulary, but it also involves some knowledge of all those functional and cultural elements which characterise languages all over the world. The aim of this work is twofold: Firstly, it introduces some of the most significant criticisms addressed to the use of translation in the FL classes as outlined by Malmkjaer (1998:6) and, secondly, it will provide counterarguments to each of these criticisms in order to show the usefulness of this activity as potentially the ‘fifth’ language skill to be integrated in any FL course.
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